Do you ever find that when you write a fictional scene, a similar event will happen in your real life? It’s happened to me a few times. Never the exact same thing, but something close enough to make me wonder about the power of ideas.
For example, my new novel, Leaving the Beach begins with the protagonist—a woman named Erin Reardon—having a chance encounter with fictional grunge star Lenny Weir in a nightclub. It’s an intimate little meeting, made all the more unique because Erin’s not really a fan of Lenny (or grunge music) at the time. She’s much more interested in artists like Elvis Costello.
So here’s where the real life stuff comes in. Last fall—just a few days after I learned that Booktrope was interested in publishing Leaving the Beach—my husband and I went up to Portland, Maine to see Elvis Costello play at the State Theatre. It was an amazing show, extremely memorable for numerous reasons. Anyone who doesn’t consider Elvis to be one of the great artists of our generation should try to see him play live sometime soon.
Anyway, as we walked back to our hotel, my husband remembered that the New England Patriots were on TV that evening, so we stopped into a little sports bar to catch the end of the game. But when we got inside, we discovered that the place was also holding an open mike night for musicians, and six or seven men were crowded onto the tiny stage, covering the Band’s “The Weight.” My husband checked out the game on TV, while I—not a football fan—turned my attention to the stage. I found the picture above on Twitter. Not sure who took it, but it was taken that night.
“Recognize any of those people up there?” asked the bartender as he poured our beers.
I looked again. A few of the singers were good-looking guys, but they didn’t look familiar to me. “No,” I said. “Who are they?
The bartender smiled. “Three of them are the Hanson brothers. Do you remember Hanson from the 90s?”
Hanson? I had to think for a second, but then it started coming back to me. Three cute teens/tweens singing “Mmmbop” in 1997. They’d had the undisputed song of the summer that year: it’d been impossible to go to the beach, or turn on MTV without hearing their infectious pop tune. Had I been a fan? Well, considering that I was thirty-three years old in ‘97, not so much. And yet, I do recall thinking they were talented kids. I’d seen them on one of the late-night talk shows, and had been impressed with their sense of melody and harmony.
And there they were, all grown up and playing an open mike night in Portland, Maine. I jumped to conclusions, of course, assuming they’d become yet another case of child stars burning out too quickly. It made me a little sad.
But a few minutes later, I turned to my left and saw that one of the Hanson brothers—the middle one, who used to have really long blond hair—was standing beside me, ordering a beer. I couldn’t resist. “You guys sounded good,” I said.
“Thanks,” he said, without a shred of ego. “My name’s Taylor.”
“I know,” I answered. “The bartender told me who you are.”
And then, for the next half hour or so, we had a really nice conversation. I quickly learned that Hanson is still very much a band, still making new music, and still touring. They don’t play pop any more though; their style is more like R&B. It was pure coincidence that they were in Portland that night, as they’d been traveling via tour bus between Canada and somewhere in the American South, and when they’d seen an open mike night, they’d stopped in for fun.
We talked about raising children (Taylor has five kids, the oldest of whom is about the same age as my son), education in America, and growing up in a creative family. He struck me as a very regular, unpretentious, sociable guy, who enjoyed chatting with the various people life threw into his path.
It was only after we’d said goodbye that the surreal nature of the situation hit me. Not only was it an odd coincidence to have met a teen idol like Taylor Hanson in a sports bar in Maine, but in some ways, it’d been similar to Erin Reardon’s meeting with Lenny Weir in Leaving the Beach.
On the other hand, there were plenty of differences. First of all, in the novel, Lenny Weir is wasted to the point of being almost incoherent, whereas Taylor was bright and well-spoken. And although I do think about that evening from time to time, I certainly didn’t become obsessed with Taylor the way Erin does with Lenny. And I’d never consider heading off on a dangerous roadtrip with…OK, I’ll stop there. Can’t give away too much of the story before it comes out.
But if you’ve ever had an experience like this—a time when you’ve written something fictional, then had something similar actually happen to you, I’d love to hear about it.